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The costs of washing and tumble drying

The headlines

  • Washing clothes in a washing machine is relatively cheap, and the wash cycle you use really makes a difference.

  • Drying clothes in a tumble dryer is around ten times as expensive as washing them!

  • This article explains all the costs and shares some NEW tips on minimising them.


Costs of using a washing machine

Using my 13-year-old washing machine, I've measured the amount of energy it uses for a two wash cycles with loads of around 4kg. I set the spin speed to maximum and used the 'regular' wash settings.

My washing machine is old and only A-rated for energy efficiency, so most more modern ones will be slightly cheaper to run.

The results:

A 30C wash cycle cost 11p.

A 40C wash cycle cost 14p

A 60C wash cycle would be around 20p (estimated)

I've not experimented with other wash programmes.

For a year we have only ever done our laundry at 30C wash temperature, and we are completely happy with the cleaning results.

We don't typically have heavily soiled items, though, such as muddy sports kit or baby clothes.

The costs for a washing machine are very similar, regardless of the size of the load. This is because most of the energy is used to heat the water, which is the same quantity, however much laundry you put in the machine. Washing with a full load is much more efficient, as it means fewer washloads.

Only using a washing machine with a full load also saves a LOT of water. A washing machine uses around 50 litres of water for a wash load. If you are on a water meter that is around 15p in water costs to add to the above figures.


Cost of using a tumble dryer

Drying a full drying load in a tumble dryer from October 23 can cost up towards £1.30-£1.50 (using figures of 4-5.5kWh of energy, quoted online) for a conventional vented or condenser tumble dryer. That's TEN times as costly as washing them!

Even if you have one of the latest heat pump tumble dryers, it is still 4-5 times more expensive to dry your clothes than to wash them, at somewhere in the 65-75p range per drying load.

I was REALLY astonished to find that tumble dryers cost so much more to run than washing machines!

The costs of tumble drying will vary with how much you put in the machine. A half load will use roughly have figures shown above.


Laundry energy saving tips

  • Repeating spin cycles does make a difference of items that hold a lot of water such as towels, but very little for wash loads that have fine fabric such as cotton shirts or acrylics.

  • Why not use smaller towels. Bathroom towels take up a lot of space in washers and tumble dryers. Using smaller towels means fewer washer and dryer loads. We never use 'bath sheet'-size towels any more, and could probably switch to hair towels quite easily (see diagram).

Towel sizes
  • How often do you wash towels? The common view on various laundry and health websites is to wash them after 3-4 uses, depending on circumstances. I do, though, know someone who washes them after just a single use for reasons that are a mystery as no-one in the house has any healthy issues or anything that mean they need to do that.

  • If you must use a tumble dryer, ensure that you start by using the highest spin speed on your washing machine cycle: this will reduce the amount of water in the clothes and they will dry more quickly and cheaply.

  • Laundry items that absorb a lot of moisture (e.g. jeans and fluffy towels) will always be the most costly to dry in a tumble dryer.

  • Keeping filters clean on a tumble dryer will keep it operating as efficiently as you can.

  • Always vent a tumble dryer to the outside. It might seem tempting to vent it indoors to warm the inside of the home, but it is a false economy. This brings with it a lot of humidity, and risks of damp and condensation which actually lower the temperature in the home. Your central heating will have to work harder to compensate for this - and add to your fuel bill! If you have no choice but to vent it inside, make sure there is plenty of ventilation to let the humid air escape.

  • Your machine manuals may contain useful information about the different wash and dry programmes and some clues about energy used in each. If you don't have your user manual any more, it is very easy to find a free copy to download online. Just Google your make and model.


Creative alternatives to tumble drying

See my other blog on some creative low cost alternatives to using tumble dryer that need little or no energy, and also my article on dehumidifiers.

See also my article here on how to reduce laundry times and costs using a dehumidifier and another on heated airers.

All costings above are based on an assumed electricity price of 27p per kWh from Oct 2022


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All content on the site should be treated as information and not advice. You should take professional advice where appropriate to different site articles.


Mark Thompson

Get Energy Savvy - simple practical home energy efficiency information

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